Nutritional Management Strategies for Improving Growth and Carcass Composition of Beef-Dairy Crossbred Calves

Project Overview

Project Type: Research Only
Funds awarded in 2021: $200,000.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2024
Grant Recipients: University of Connecticut; Pennsylvania State University
Region: Northeast
State: Connecticut
Project Leader:
Dr. Sarah Reed
University of Connecticut


  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: feed management

    Proposal abstract:

    As sexed semen from proven dairy bulls is becoming more widely used, fewer cattle need to be bred to dairy bulls to produce adequate numbers of high genetic merit replacement heifers. Replacement rates of 20 to 40%, plus a safety margin, leave 40 to 70% of cattle available for crossbreeding with beef semen to produce beef x dairy (BxD) crossbred calves, while maintaining milk production in a herd. These calves have greater potential for growth and result in heavier carcasses with improved carcass characteristics compared with straightbred dairy calves, resulting in increased economic return to the producer. Dairies can increase profits by using sexed dairy semen for replacement heifer production and beef semen to produce BxD for the beef market. However, there is little information on appropriate nutritional management of BxD calves. Given that farms in the Northeast are using beef semen in dairy cows, implementing appropriate feeding strategies in early postnatal life will increase suitability of the BxD carcass for the beef market. Further, our preliminary data indicate that NE producers are interested in adopting this approach but requested additional nutrition, health, and breeding information. We hypothesize that improving postnatal nutrition for BxD calves will improve growth, carcass quality, and economic return. To test this hypothesis, multiparous Holstein dairy cows will be bred with beef semen to produce 40 BxD calves. After birth, calves will be assigned to one of two milk replacers: control (CON; 26:20 fat:protein milk replacer) or HIGH (32:30 fat:protein milk replacer). At 56 days of age, calves will be weaned onto a calf grower (GROWER; 14% protein) or an isonitrogenous, corn silage-based total mixed ration (TMR) to achieve a targeted gain of 3 lb/day. When calves reach 500 lb body weight, they will be finished by transitioning to a grain-based diet until slaughter at market weight. At the same time, we will survey dairies in the Northeast to quantify the number of dairies that are producing BxD calves, determine how they are managing those calves, and what support is required to improve their success. Educational materials will be created and presented to producers in a variety of formats, and extension personnel will conduct farm visits and consultations with producers. Further, the advisory committee will provide feedback on research findings, educational materials, and industry trends. Together, these data are critical to the wide-spread adoption of proper nutritional practices because specific nutritional management schemes to raise BxD calves are currently non-existent. Further, we seek to understand how dairies in the Northeast states are currently utilizing this approach and generate educational material aimed at increasing their success and economic return.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    In 2020, Hoard’s Dairyman reported that use of beef semen by dairy producers to generate beef x dairy (BxD) calves had doubled over the past two years, because of an expected increased economic return compared with straightbred dairy calves raised for beef. However, data about management and growth of these animals, especially in the first six months of life is scarce. This study seeks to identify how different nutritional management strategies in early life impact future growth potential. These findings will support profitability of Northeast dairies, increasing returns to the farm and improving carcass quality for the BxD market. 

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.